A really weird Scottish dream

4913749603_9543f2137b_bI had a really weird dream about Scottish independence last night.

As is usual with dreams, I can remember some details very clearly.

Nicola Sturgeon was being interviewed on Today by James Naughtie from Edinburgh.

She said that the SNP’s proposed Scottish “independence” would involve keeping the pound, controlled by the Bank of England. So the Bank of England would dictate Scottish interest rates and how much money is printed for Scotland – monetary policy.

In this dream, it was obvious that Sturgeon was using a really weird definition of the word “independence”. Indeed, she was making up her own meanings for the word “independence”. That wouldn’t happen in real life.

In my dream she said that the Bank of England ruling Scottish money scam is logical because the “Bank of England” is “independent”. Presumably she meant independent like the International Monetary Fund, rather than “independent” like the actual Bank of England, which is the central bank of the United Kingdom wholly owned by the UK Government’s Treasury Solicitor and with its Governor appointed on the recommendation of the UK Prime Minister.

So the whole dream was completely crazy.

I look forward to finding out about the SNP’s real plans in due course.

Photo by Kenny Barker

Michael Portillo: life after politics and unfeasibly bright jackets

imageYou have to admire Michael Portillo, especially if you were, like me, still up for him (I bought the book as well).

Since that low point at Enfield in 1997, he has carved out a remarkable television career for himself. Of course, he is permanently ensconced on the sofa of This Week with the former Lady Macduff to his Lord Macduff, Diane Abbott (I am not making this up).

But what I really admire Portillo for…perhaps “admire” is the wrong word – it’s more like jealousy… is for his “Great Railway Journeys” gig.

Well, that’s quite a gig isn’t it? You get to ride around in trains and interview people about fascinating subjects in some of the nicest places in the UK and around the world.

Portillo has a bit of a stentorian delivery, but he certainly communicates a real interest in the places and people he comes across.

But what clothes he wears! Look at the jacket he was wearing in Prague (above)! Do not adjust your set. Imagine if he had worn that for a military înspection when he was Secretary of State for Defence.

Yes, it is actually possible to enjoy a news bulletin

I really enjoyed the 5.30pm news on Radio Four today. “Enjoy” is not a verb normally associated with listening to news bulletins, admittedly. But Ben Maeder read it. Who he? The West Cumbrian reporter for BBC Radio Cumbria. He read the news beautifully, kicking off “Accent week” on PM. Each day they’ll be featuring a newsreader with an accent not normally associated with the PM news.

Presumably they won’t have a Nord Iron accent featured, because they normally do have the Belfast tones of the superb Kathy Clugson.

Oh, and they won’t presumably has a Scots accent featured because they normally do have the Scots tones of marvellous Susan Rae.

Remembering Today in the sixties

Evan Davies on Today this morning reported that a new clock, provided via a listener’s website, has been installed in their studio. It shows the time in words, which is rather novel. This is following some time-telling difficulty displayed by Davis and his co-presenter, Sarah Montague.

This reminded me of Jack de Manio. When I was at primary school, during the mid to late sixties, I used to join my parents in their big bed to listen to Today on Radio Four. In fact, I think I even got in there for Farming Today sometimes. I remember hearing “here is the news and this Alvar Lidell reading it”. Yes, although Alvar Lidell is associated with wartime brodcasts, he was reading the news on Today well into the sixties. I also remember a chirpy cockney called Monty Modlyn, a sort of Danny Baker character who did roving, often homourous, reports. And of course there was the great Jack de Manio.

One of Jack de Manio’s signature habits was to get into a right pickle, sometimes, trying to tell the time. It’s easily done, especially at that time of the morning. If you’re concentrating on interviewing cabinet ministers, your brain tends not to bother itself with telling the time.

The poshification of Newbury

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Walking down Northbrook street, Newbury, I reflected on how the character of the town is now distinctively different from when I first arrived here in 1985.

For me, the arrival of Pret a manger marks the finalisation of the change. Newbury is now “posh”, for the want of a better phrase. I don’t know whether that is a good thing.

Some might say that we just have the normal panopoly of chain outlets. Well, firstly, many towns in the country would give their right arms for some of the chains we have represented here. Secondly, we still have this, very distinctive, view (below) from Newbury bridge in our town centre. It really is qute mindblowing. I never tire of it. And it is rarely without admiring people gazing at it.

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The Day Kennedy died

President John F. KennedyWarning – contains one rather grim statement.

I very much recommend the ITV documentary, “The Day Kennedy died” narrated by Kevin Spacey. It’s available on ITV Player and Catch-up for the next 22 days. I’ve watched several documentaries about the JFK shooting, but this one stood out.

They follow JFK (and his body) from the moment he walks out of the Fort Worth hotel, where he was staying, in the morning, until the early hours of the next morning. They use an extraordinary mixture of footage, taken from various angles, both black & white and colour, both video of live TV and film.

They also interview some remarkable eye-witnesses such as Clint Hill, the bodyguard who jumped on the back of the car. Buell Frazier, who drove Oswald to work that day with his long package of “curtain rails”. Ruth Paine, who was hosting Oswald’s girlfriend. The Newman family, who were standing on the side of the road at the point where Kennedy was shot. One of the nurses in the trauma room where Kennedy was taken after the shooting. Etcetera, etcetera.

The result is a very poignant programme which sheds light on a number of aspects of the day.

I don’t remember where I was when the news came through that JFK had been assasinated. I was only four years old. I would have been in Bude. I can remember where I was when the news came through that Robert Kennedy had been shot.

There were a number of interesting things which I learned about the day from the programme:

When Kennedy flew into Dallas, he actually only flew 30 miles in 13 minutes from Fort Worth. It was hardly worth taking off. But he wanted the big picture of him arriving with Jackie at Dallas airport.

After the shooting, there is the famous image of Jackie Kennedy climbing onto the back of the car. I always thought this was her instinctive reaction to get away from the dead body of her husband, or perhaps a way of summoning help. However, Clint Hill, the bodyguard who was a few feet from Jackie Kennedy, said that she was trying to collect the pieces of her husband which had landed on the back of the car. Grim.

I didn’t realise that Clint Hill hung on to the limousine while it reached speeds of 80 mph going to the hospital. Hairy stuff.

And through numerous photos, film snippets and audio, the programme gives a very vivid picture of the LBJ swearing-in in the plane on the tarmac at the airport, which was extremely grim and emotionally charged. People could be heard and seen sobbing openly.

Lee Harvey Oswald was taken in handcuffs past the waiting press at least 15 times after his arrival at the police station where he was questioned. It seems incredible.

I also notice from the film that there is a white “X” on the road in Dallas where JFK was shot. Tourists regularly risks their lives in the traffic to have their photo taken standing by it. Crazy stuff.

All in all, stirring stuff from ITV.

But after taking a mild interest in all the conspiracy theories, I am left with the overall impression that a lone nutjob did it. Lee Harvey Oswald. Also, we should take into account that Presidential security was at a very early stage then and perhaps Oswald was ahead of the curve. These days he wouldn’t have got into the Book Depository with his “curtain rails” in the first place.

+++BREAKING NEWS+++ Dunkirk rescue abandoned. Many huskies dead

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Climate Change is the defining issue of our age. Previous generations had to deal with the rise of Nazism or communism. This is the issue on which my generation of politicians will be judged. This is our Dunkirk.


– Richard Benyon, Conservative MP for Newbury, November 2006

Cut the green crap

-Reported private view of Prime Minister David Cameron seven years later

Photo: Some rights reserved by Stop Climate Chaos Coalition

Teacher being told to be "less Cumbrian" story is not true

BBC Radio Berkshire had an interesting piece this morning. Our old friend Paul Dick, headteacher of Kennet School and general all-round educational good-egg, was on.

There has been this story about a teacher being told to be “less Cumbrian”. It turns out that Mr Dick is chair of governors at the primary school in question in Thatcham.

To cut a long story short, it seems that the teacher in question made a joke about having “to sort out (her) accent” as she left a meeting last week with union reps. One of those present took the joke seriously and leaked it to the media. We then had a 24 carat mediatweet storm with a satellite van rocking up outside the school and media bods wanting to interview parents.

The teacher in question is mortified at what has happened. Mr Dick has gone through the recent Ofsted report and the teacher’s appraisal with the teacher and her head. There is no mention of accents in either.

But what makes all this deliciously ironic is when you hear Paul Dick speak.

He has an Irish accent so thick that you could bottle it and use it to strip paint.

The proposal to expand Newbury local party – the other side of the argument

newbury town hallOn Friday, I posted my concerns about the proposal to bring the West Berkshire Council wards of Reading West into an expanded Newbury West Berkshire local Liberal Democrat party. As a good Liberal Democrat, I am now going to lay out the counter-arguments, in favour of the change.

Many thanks to those who have posted explanations for the change (which can be read here on LDV and here on the LDV members’ forum) , which I summarise below.

The first thing to note is that the English Liberal Democrat party recently changed its rules concerning the formation of local parties. This has prompted a number of local parties to consider changing boundaries between themselves. A common theme is balancing parliamentary boundaries versus local authority ones.

Just recently, in Suffolk, members have decided to reorganise along District council borders. Surrey is reorganising on those same lines. Buckinghamshire and Hampshire have indicated they also want to move in that direction.

Reading has merged into one large party containing Reading East and Reading West constituencies, centred on Reading Borough Council’s area.

The example of Kingston-on-Thames is interesting. For decades, Kingston local party area has contained an electorate 160,000 and one and a third constituencies, being very electorally successful at all levels.

As parliamentary boundaries tend to change quite often, organising around Local Authority areas tends to lead to rather more stable local party situations.

Another key point is that Reading Borough Council holds elections in thirds. That is, they have elections each year for three years and then a “rest” year. Of course, in West Berkshire we have council elections in one fell swoop every four years. So, there is a strong argument to put the Reading West/West Berkshire Council wards in with the bulk of the rest of the West Berkshire wards, in order to synchronise campaigning on the same timetable.

I am particularly grateful to James Moore, the campaigns and membership development officer of the Greater Reading Lib Dem party. He has explained that the proposal to regroup the local parties has been approved by the members of Greater Reading, the Local Party Executive, the Berkshire Lib Dem Leaders meeting, and the Regional Executive. The Chair of the West Berkshire branch (Reading West WBC area branch) was present at the All-Reading meeting which approved this. They also held their own branch meeting where their members agreed the change.

I am also extremely grateful to Theale councillor, Alan Macro, who is “very much in favour” of the change. He mentioned that the Greater Reading local party is more focussed on winning seats on Reading Borough Council than either Reading parliamentary seats or the West Berkshire seats.

I should also mention that I have been sharply reminded that residents of the wards under discussion do not regard themselves as being in suburbs of Reading. Sorry.

I hope my two posts have helped to ventilate the various aspects of this important debate.

Is it right to expand Newbury party by a third?

newbury town hallOn December 7th, Newbury local party members will have a proposed constitutional amendment before them at our AGM, which I think other local parties have also faced. If passed, this motion would expand the local party area to include the six West Berkshire Council wards (Birch Copse, Calcot, Pangbourne, Purley on Thames, Theale, Westwood) within the Reading West parliamentary constituency. So, no longer would the Newbury local party be exactly contiguous with the Newbury parliamentary constituency, as it has been over decades of boundary changes. On 7th May 2015 we would be fighting on five fronts: Newbury and (part of) Reading West parliamentary elections, West Berkshire Council elections and two political Town Council elections.

Are we ready for this vast expansion?

Within the current dearth of explanation for this change and mindful of historic rejections of this move by respected campaigners, my own view is “no”. I am writing this in the hope of ventilating the issue so that the membership can mull over the key factors before the AGM. I welcome further explanation for the proposal. I am ready to listen and learn.

The mooted increase comprises 11 council seats and an electorate of 23,871, causing an increase in our local party’s responsibilities of 31% – a third, effectively (based on the December 2010 electorate of Newbury Constituency of 77,898). It also massively expands the already huge land area covered by our party, making it a 41 minute journey of 26 miles from one corner to the other.

I am concerned that this will stretch our modest people resources too far, taking our eye off the rural/urban Anti-Tory ball of Newbury while we fight a different three cornered fight in what are, despite essential village hearts, suburbs of a nascent city – Reading. It changes the essential nature of our local party.

I also believe that this is counter to our principle of localism. Allan Macro in Theale, for whose campaigning skills I have the utmost respect, is the way to go. Local Liberal Democrats working their socks off for decades getting elected. We can’t expect miracles through control from a distant party HQ. Liberal Democracy is not about control. It’s about decisions and work at ward level.

Reblogged from Liberal Democrat Voice.